Book Review: 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense

13 Things That Don’t Make Sense is an accessible book about the limits of current scientific understanding.

In many story arcs – both fiction and non-fiction – there’s a satisfying and familiar pattern of sharing a beginning, a middle, and an end. That pattern is broadly consistent through many different forms of story-telling from short jokes, to long novel, to historical treatises. 13 Things is focused on a whole series of issues where there is – as of yet – no satisfying conclusion. By definition, this exploration of unsolved scientific challenges is going to lack the “end” to each of the 13 inter-locking mysteries.

In that vein, then, 13 Things comes to a distinctly unsatisfying conclusion, precisely because there is no end. To my reading, there’s no deep drawing together of the disparate strands of the book to build that familiar beginning, middle and end narrative.

It’s interesting as a book. The author seems to cover a variety of leading-edge scientific issues, and much of what he writes seems sensible. But at the end of the book, it didn’t leave me with a thirst for more knowledge or more detail on any of the issues covered. It didn’t leave me with a passion to tell others about the scientific challenges it addressed.

The prose is clear, and there is very little pre-knowledge assumed on the behalf of the reader. You don’t need to be an expert in any branch of science to be able to understand the challenges that are covered, and it is accessible enough. At the end of the book, however, I just did not feel that my life was deeply affected by the book. It left me unsatisfied – and seeking a conclusion to the stories it shared. In that respect, 13 Things didn’t really make sense to me.

Update, 12 September 2019: One of the things that allegedly didn’t make sense in 13 Things was the idea of free will. New research seems to offer an explanation, as per this article in The Atlantic here.

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